James Webb Space Telescope

Three explosions, two stars, and a rare discovery. Webb recently detected tellu…

Three explosions, two stars, and a rare discovery.

Webb recently detected tellurium, an element rarer than platinum on Earth, in the explosive aftermath of two neutron stars merging.

Swipe through to see where it all began. The pair were once two stars tied together by gravity in a distant spiral galaxy. First one star, then the other exploded. As their cores collapsed into dense remnants, they became neutron stars. These two explosions would launch the pair out of their home galaxy — 120,000 light-years away. Several hundred million years later, the neutron stars violently merged, triggering both a gamma-ray burst and a kilonova.

Gamma-ray bursts are extremely bright, short blasts of the most energetic form of light. This gamma-ray burst, GRB 230307A, was first detected by the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope in March 2023. It’s the second brightest gamma-ray burst ever observed!

Accompanying the gamma-ray burst was a kilonova emitting optical and infrared light. A team of telescopes, including NASA’s Swift Observatory, helped identify the kilonova from the ground and from space. With its highly sensitive infrared eye, Webb helped scientists find out the home galaxy of the two neutron stars.

Kilonovas were long thought to create many of the heavier elements we’re familiar with, like gold in our jewelry or iodine in our blood. Webb shows a clear detection of tellurium in its data — the first time a heavy element has been detected from a kilonova. With this discovery, astronomers believe Webb can find even more kilonovas and evidence of neutron star mergers creating heavy elements. More at our link in bio!

ID: These two images make up a larger picture of bright galaxies and other light sources scattered across the blackness of space. There are small points, hazy elliptical-like smudges with halos, and spiral-shaped blobs. The objects vary in color: white, blue-white, yellow-white, and orange-red. In the first image is a small red point with a white circle around it, labeled “GRB 230307A kilonova.” In the second image is a blue-white spiral galaxy seen face-on that is larger than other light sources. It is labeled “former home galaxy.”

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